tv [untitled] January 29, 2012 2:48am-3:18am PST
case, we have a unique history with the death penalty. during his reelection campaign of 1999, terrence hallohan said that they would not seek the death penalty for any offense in san francisco. he was reelected by a close margin a few years later, and she took the position that she would not bring any death penalty case. and she was reelected with the same conditions as part of the reelection campaign. harris was elected to be the state of the new general, and gavin newsom elected george gascon to be the district attorney. when asked his position on the death penaltiy, hy, he said he
wouldn't rule it out. this raised a lot of concern among opponents of the death penalty who thought this would be a step backward. he has written against the death penalty, and adheres to san francisco values. san francisco has not had a jury return a death verdict since 1989, which was 10 years before he said his office would not seek the death penalty. we thought this particular issue wanted a discussion and we are pleased to have a palace here today. let me introduce them more at length. geroge gastcocon has had a long
career in law enforcement, and he works for decades in the l.a. police department, serving as the director of the office of operations in charge of patrol and detectives and special operations. he is considered to be an expert in matters of police accountability. john thompson spent 14 years on death row, and after his verdict was set aside he was then facing life in prison. he was fighting for a retrial that took place four years later. he was exonerated by a jury in less than 30 minutes that found him not guilty when he got his
retrial, and it was largely the result of the police department not turning over what would have been -- evidence in his first trial. the united states supreme court reversed the verdict of the jury in this decision. he has found an organization called resurrection after exoneration to help other people seek justice in their respective cases. to his left -- this is the executive director of california death penalty focus, where she works to abolish the death penalty. she did preside as the warden over several executions.
natasha is the death penalty policy director for the american civil liberties union of northern california. she previously worked as a deputy public defender in alameda county, and was a staff attorney with the california task force on criminal instructions. she is also working on the effort to abolish the death penalty in california and pursuing the goal of reforming capital sentencing procedure. before we start with the first question, we have a short video. i have been told that this is a video from the former warden of the mississippi prison. >> it is clear that the
execution will take place and something happens. they may not come out and say that they did this, but they will tell the victim -- i am sorry. and then they say, i did this. and i leaned down to whisper in his ear, and i thought i could reach them because i wanted to make certain that he is at peace with themselves. i said it is not important for you to confess to this crime and is not important for anyone in this room. the only thing that is important is that you let your god know the truth. and he looked at me and he said -- i am at peace with my god. how will you be with yours?
>> do you think that he did this? >> i do not know. >> this is terrible. >> the former governor has come to the conclusion that this boy was probably innocent. we are good friends and have remained so, and the one thing we talk about when we get together -- let's hope that he was guilty because the idea that
a prisoner, a piece of them dies as well. this leaves you feeling very frustrated, and i had said, with the executions i was involved with, each of those four times, i climbed into the shower and i would scrub and scrub. but you cannot make yourself clean. when everyone else was sleeping in the middle of the night, i was killing someone. everybody else got to get up once more like nothing out of the ordinary had happened. this is another thing if you actually have to do this.
i was watching them die in the gas chamber, and wondered what my children thought of their father. and ultimately, what will my god asked of me when my time comes to be judged. this, more than anything else, was weighing very heavily on me. >> you get to know these people never forget what they did. when you execute someone who has been there for 12 years, you are not executing the same man who came in. the notion that the system has no flock, -- stanford law
school has posted something from 1900, and this is well documented. these are innocent people being executed. in that same time, almost 400 other people were released from death row before they were executed because they were found to have been innocent. >> ladies and gentleman. at 4:a.m., edward earl johnson was executed in the gas chamber -- with the sentence of the second court, and i'll be glad to entertain any questions that you may have.
>> innocent people go to death row and more of them die. this was enough to cause any government to stop and take stock of where this was regard to the death penalty. in regard to that question, it always comes down to the morality of it all. >> let's start with questions for the panelists. george, thank you for being here. i know that we welcome and appreciate you being here. the remarks that you made, this
has caused concerns for many opponents of the death penalty to have celebrated the fact that san francisco moved away from this and did this rather convincingly, and i want to put the question out there. are you in favor of the death penalty? >> the answer, this is no. but it is important to recognize the role that i play. i think it would be inappropriate for me to say, categorically -- if you look at this, clearly, and understandably, when she was rewarded, there are other death penalty incidents.
we know that the death penalty -- 60% of everyone on death row in the state today is a minority, either african- american or latino. and this brings no closure to the victims. the victims go through an emotional roller coaster. i have met with the victims of -- families of victims of homicides. more recently we realized the cost of supporting the death penalty. a fire stand -- understand all the factors that speak against the death penalty -- i have spent to a great deal of time against -- with people who are
against the death penalty. they believe that this is an area that many are talking about reforming, and much like three strikes. i understand the process is ongoing, and certainly a process we entertain discussing. it would be inappropriate for me to say, categorically, i would never consider this. we have a system implemented by my predecessor, with the patter out -- panel of senior attorneys to look at cases, and in the have recommendations that come to me. i have had my first case that was presented to me and this was rejected. i have other cases coming up, without the formal presentation, these are cases
that do not warrant the death penalty. it is important to recognize my role with the state of a lot today. >> you said that the only thing that would allow for you to come out against the death penalty is a change in the law, and would you join the efforts to repeal the death penalty? >> as a matter of fact, we have talked about this. the other thing to understand, in san francisco, the political answer would be to say that i am against the death penalty. i would not be sitting here today. >> i feel that the complexities of the issue require that a look at this in a more thoughtful way.
i now believe that this is the right tool. early on, i described this as an imperfect tool. this was quoted afterward as me saying that this was perfect. i don't think that this is necessarily an efficient way of dealing with a very serious crime. but i am the chief law- enforcement officer of the county. >> let me ask you this. you were in prison for 14 years in the state of louisiana, 18 years including the time he fought for retrial. there was withheld evidence that would have resulted in a different outcome. if this was shared with your attorney at the time you were arrested.
do you believe that on this district attorney can impose rules were implemented rules in their office to make certain that this evidence is turned over to make the likelihood of a miscarriage of justice less likely or even impossible? >> -- to me, it is impossible that he could guarantee the safety. we just heard a bunch of police officers, with the corruption that has gone at the police departments, and in the city councils. for a district attorney to say that he feels comfortable with saying he should execute the right man -- he cannot cash that check because there is too much
he cannot control. he cannot even control the police officer who is corrupt, and there is too much going with the picture -- this would not even be a question. >> you have worked on accountability and trying to address the issues of miss identification, and these are things you are doing to try to make the criminal justice system more fair. but if i understand you, you understand that this is an imperfect system. >> one thing that we understand -- this is the power of the district attorney's office to pursue the conviction. he has the right to the judge and the trial, but by the same token, i have never heard the
district attorney say -- did he ever prosecute a police officer for perjury. did he ever prosecute? and any other office persecutes -- prosecute. continue to do that. did they ever prosecute anyone as a prosecutor for of seen things were bad things. when you try to put accountability together, you look at the whole picture and was going on in the trial. where is most of the misconduct happening. it becomes important. who is up to, so unless we can put accountability not just with
the district attorney, he needs to have accountability. we need to find out who will be responsible for the prosecutors that go wild, and how do we deal with this? does the defendant get a chance to make that claim? what happened? nothing. this is his witness. >> can you tell me this story that you told me? you showed me a photograph of a magazine that had on its cover, the dish attorney who had prosecuted you in your case. >> he prosecuted at least eight of us. he was called most of the prosecutor in the united states. he was posing with a miniature
electric chair. and this had several african- americans on this. i was in the middle and in this picture, six of us are there. one of us is still awaiting trial. he was given and it -- the release of sentence. he was a winter of $14 million lawsuit against this man. in this matter -- is also passing this returning to help me out. what would you do? >> thank you for the chance to respond. one reason i accepted this appointment was because i believe that there are a lot of problems with the criminal justice system, i think that
this is to be reformed in many ways. we have problems with prosecution misconduct, problems with police misconduct and i believe that we have wrongly incarcerated a number of people in many communities and this is something i have worked on for many years. one thing i have done, and i was appointed to it -- i have been known to say that one of the things i say in my office -- we have the structural integrity unit, and the evidence and the credibility of the witnesses, this is presented to make certain that we have the transparent and fair trial. i am aware of the misconduct,
and i think that this is a shared responsibility. when i was in the loss angeles police department, i was one of those who was asked to look at the breakdowns in the aftermath of this incident. this was involving several gang officers, and it was determined that they have lied on police reports. and this resulted in the conviction of some individuals. i was taught -- involved in the assessment of the breakdown. one thing that was very obvious to me -- there had been breakdowns in police leadership, but also in the whole criminal justice system. the prosecutors were too willing to hear a story that was not believable.
there were members of the defense that did not do their job the way that they should have. and they should have been more circumspect about what was being presented. one of the main reasons i am here today, is because i have this very strong commitment to the reef formation of the system. any system that incarcerates people at the rate that we do in our country and our state -- the implications that this has had in minority communities, 70 people -- 70% of the people that we incarcerate -- this is a system based on punitive measures. this indicates that we have to fix the system and that is why i am here today. we have to fix this. >> john ray is a direct
question. if you are presented with evidence that the police officers have committed perjury, or if you have this attorney in your office who has hidden evidence in the pursuit of a conviction, will you take action against this? >> we are aware that we're looking at many cases -- with the first homicide -- homicide conviction for this case that was over 20 years old at the office was working on for over one year. and we have the prosecutorial problems in this case. it appears that this was possibly prompted by the police. we believe that this evidence was material, and we decided to read prosecute the case. we have an integrity and it
today, and we're looking at a series of cases and convictions. the answer is that i will hold those individuals accountable, and if there is a case to be prosecuted i would do so. as far as the prosecutor is concerned, if i find that he withheld information intentionally, we will assess a fee should be prosecuted. if we have police officers committing perjury, we will review these cases. we have a number of cases that have been presented, and we're trying to assess the actual occurrence on the basis. the only way the system can work well as if we all play by the rules. >> i agree. >> i want to get the other panelists into the conversation.
>> in my particular case, each one of us was put on death row. and right now, you have 135 people have been exonerated from death row. what would be the charge? at of the 138 who were prosecuted, 45 or 40-45 of them was for prosecution misconduct. i am just wondering, since he said that he would prosecute, he would prosecute on what level? >> i do not know the facts behind those cases. >> this is a person who was innocent, but they withheld the evidence to prosecute him on death row. well with the deficit -ll